Topeka Kansas saw modest but atypical growth in manufacturing jobs from January to February, a sign that its economy may be improving, the state Department of Labor reported Friday.
The department also said in its monthly jobs report that the state saw a slight but better-than-average increase in overall employment from January to February. Also, its unemployment rate dipped to 6.8 percent in February from 7.2 percent in January.
"While it is still too early to say the Kansas labor market is out of the woods, I am encouraged by a number of promising signs," Labor Secretary Jim Garner said.
The department's report did show that the employment picture remains weaker than it was a year ago. About 1.4 million Kansans were employed in February, while nearly 103,000 were actively seeking work.
The unemployment rate was 6.2 percent in February 2009. Also, almost 44,000 fewer Kansans held nonfarm jobs last month than in February 2009, and manufacturing employment is still almost 10 percent lower than it was last year.
But the state gained 3,500 manufacturing jobs from January to February, bringing the total to 160,500. The growth was about 2.2 percent over the month.
Department spokeswoman Annie Flachsbarth said manufacturing employment typically doesn't fluctuate widely from month to month. Over the past decade, the average manufacturing employment gain from January to February has been 300 jobs, she said.
State officials also saw a positive sign in the month-to-month comparison of the number of Kansans actively seeking work.
Flachsbarth said during the past 10 years, the average decline in the figure from January to February has been about 4,200. This year, the drop was about 5,900.
The department also said about 16,600 Kansans filed their first claims for unemployment benefits in February, compared to almost 24,000 in February 2009.
"These are encouraging signs that we'll be watching closely over the coming months," Garner said.
But the department's monthly report also showed that employment by government agencies in Kansas, including local school districts, is robust compared to employment by private industries.
From January to February, the state gained 5,000 government jobs, bringing the total to 266,500, growth of 1.9 percent.
Over the year, even as the state saw nonfarm jobs decline by 3.2 percent, government hiring grew 0.1 percent, adding about 300 jobs overall.